Charting a Course Toward a Mission Driven Career

Charting a Course Toward a Mission Driven Career 

Choosing a career in social good can feel overwhelming. You can’t have a career addressing education disparities in food access among rural local businesses micro-financed through a social enterprise. Even if you could, you wouldn’t be working in holistic health care in urban communities, or supporting the growing wolf populations in the western U.S etc.

Yet avoiding making a decision is still a choice, and probably not the best one. It’s never too early to start being intentional in your career choices. This series is intended to highlight some ways to approach your career in the social good sector. While you will need to do some challenging self-reflection to find your own answers, it never hurts to have a map.


Finding Your Mission

You’ve decided you’re all-in for a mission driven career, but that decision still leaves you with a bewildering universe of choices. Which mission is yours, should you choose to accept it? Here are a few questions to get your soul-searching started.

  • Interests and Obsessions:  What articles do you skip to in magazines? What links do you click on Facebook? What do you find yourself getting into intense debate about with friends and family? What do you work on where you lose track of time?
  • Experiences and Relationships: What are some issues you or someone close to you have struggled with? What is a defining experience you’ve had? Who are some of your role models? What are some communities you have been a part of?
  • Skills: A mission doesn’t have to be as specific topic area, it can be more focused on what role you would play within an organization (e.g. mentoring others, pitching new ideas, bringing people together.) What role do you naturally take on with your group of friends? Have you taken any career /professional development tests where the results really registered with you? Do people tend to turn to you for help for a specific type of task?

Most likely, your mission in the social good sector combines some of your interests, personal experiences, and natural skills. Defining your mission is an iterative, evolving process, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put your thoughts into action.  Don’t be afraid to embrace one set of ideas about yourself, test them out, and reassess from there. Sharing your thoughts with others can both help you get better at articulating them and identify what feels natural and authentic.  Here are some hands on steps.

  • Practice with friends or mentors: Get coffee and take turns describing your mission, how it relates to your career path to date, and where you hope it takes you next. What are you confident about, what are you concerned about? The same questions that provoke internal reflection can turn up new insights when discussing with others. When you are ready, practice an “elevator pitch” for your goals, just a few catchy sentences about what uniquely drives you in your work. It may feel silly, but having a few phrases in your back pocket can help you look particularly cool, calm and collected for those surprise networking moments.
  • Intellectually Engage: Read articles, watch TED talks, listen to podcasts, look for meetups, or even sign up for a class via Coursera or other MOCC option.
  • Update your career collateral: Whether you are on the job search or not, we could all stand to dust off and update resumes, Linked In summaries, and cover letter templates.
  • Review your social media: While you may use each platform differently, do they collectively tell the story of your desired impact?
  • Go to networking events: Meeting new people in a professional context gives you plenty of practice describing how you would like to make your impact, and you can learn how others articulate their missions. 
  • Volunteer: Volunteering can help you learn more about an impact area or try out a new skill. Check out skills based volunteering opportunities on Linked In or Idealist if you want to build your more technical skill set.

Finding a “mission” is just one part of a successful career search. In upcoming posts, we’ll explore different kinds of non-profit organizations, roles within non-profits, different company cultures.


Other Resources:

Check out Idealist’s Passion Blog

Here are some more questions and action steps from Forbes.

MAPP is free online career assessment test – there are others available online, and you can also check out books like StrengthsFinder from the library.  


Meet our newest blog author, Sarah!

Sarah was raised in Charlotte, NC. She is currently a New Sector RISE fellow serving at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco. She joined the non-profit sector hoping to take my love of data and research out of the library and into the broader community.

Sarah loves working in a sector that encourages taking on the world’s big challenges without losing sight of the needs and perspectives of the people affected.  Her favorite “food” is English breakfast tea, and my favorite book she has read recently is Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. She loves hiking and backpacking, and one fun fact about her is a black bear once broke my cell phone.


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